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Diving in at the deep end

Leroy Yue
BA Business Studies'88
Leroy Yue

Leroy Yue Pui-hung graduated with a BA (Hons) Business Studies from CityU (then polytechnic) in 1988. Leroy represented Hong Kong at the 1990 Asian Games in water polo. At 30, he quit a stable and fun job in a regional seafood company to learn Japanese at Sophia University, Tokyo. After completing an MBA at the London Business School, he joined Burmah Castrol, working on M&A deals and strategy projects around the world. He has worked as Finance Director and Managing Director with international companies throughout Asia. Ever a water polo enthusiast, Leroy's latest venture connects people at sporting events.


We meet at Blueprint, Swire Properties' co-working space in Quarry Bay. Arriving early, as I sip sencha tea, half a dozen languages fill the room. It turns out that Leroy speaks many of them. 

At the age of 18, Leroy jumped into the harbour off Mei Foo in Hong Kong, saved a drowning lady, and received the Model Citizen Award. This action seems to have set the stage for his extraordinarily active and diverse life.

Leroy quotes the CEO of a Fortune 500 company where he worked: 

"In the future, the average time people will spend in a job is three years. The world is seeing changes in the way that corporates operate, and technology has a lot to do with it."

Looking at Leroy's CV, he seems to have been ahead of the times. As he puts it:

"Some people like a stable life, but this is a different option"

Learning on the fly

Leroy seems to delight in the unexpected twists and turns that life can take.

"I started off in a seafood company. We supplied restaurants in Hong Kong, and I worked as the accountant. I remember I got a 'D' in school for accountancy, no interest whatsoever. But the person who recruited me said, 'Do you want to work in the Philippines? You'll be financial controller in Manilla. You can do all the sea sports you want.'"

"So I jumped at the opportunity, started to relearn accounting on the plane, and developed a system to account for the money, the purchases - all done in cash - and the foreign exchange controls in this seafood business."

"We would put live garoupa into big plastic bags pumped up with oxygen, pack them into Styrofoam boxes with a bit of water so the oxygen content of the water was high, and send them off to Hong Kong."

"Then I would go out to all these countries across the Pacific like the Solomon Islands, Palau, Indonesia. Typically, I would negotiate with the fishing minister, and get a licence to export fish. Meanwhile, I would scuba dive with locals everywhere I went. It was a great fun job. I ended up as finance director - and had enough of the ocean in those few years to last a lifetime."

Leroy at the Asian Games at Beijing in 1990
Leroy at the Asian Games at Beijing in 1990

Tokyo and London

At 30, Leroy quit and went off to Sophia University in Tokyo to learn Japanese, all the time playing water polo, and going yachting at the weekends

"I had a lot of exposure to meeting Japanese people of different age groups and picked up Japanese quite quickly."

"At the same time, a couple of buddies in my water polo team were talking about applying for an MBA, so I did a bit of research and decided to have a go. I was accepted by the London Business School." 

He chose London because of the more diverse backgrounds of students, compared to the US. "I figured I wanted to have an international career so London was the better choice."

Leroy at the Asian Games at Beijing in 1990

Burmah Castrol

After graduating, Leroy joined Burmah Castrol, a global oil and chemicals company, as a member of the HQ corporate development team. Part of a special projects team, he worked on M&A deals around the world.

"When a company has a lot of resources, the environment is less cutthroat, so I was really lucky in this first experience. There I was in head office. You can do really advanced stuff."

"One task I had was to change the business model of our industrial division. We sold industrial lubricants, apart from the popular consumer brand of Castrol GTX. How could we transform from a product-oriented mentality to a service orientation? How to add more value by providing more service? So instead of simply selling barrels, we started to sell measurement of the effectiveness of the lubricants. In the end, we offered the customer a total solution service."

Then BP announced that they would buy the whole of Burmah Castrol, and after a few months it was clear that, in Asia, familiar faces in the old British hierarchy were being replaced by a more Singaporean culture. 

In the early 2000s Leroy was headhunted to become the Chief Financial Officer of a consumer goods company in Japan, his first opportunity to get a job in Japan.


Back to Japan

"It was a very different experience, a local operation in Japan, involving logistics management, warehousing. Run by a British company, the first thing I noticed was a big gap between top management and the people on the ground." 

With his Japanese language skills, Leroy filled that gap. What surprised him was how innovationresistant Japan proved to be.

"After 10 years of iPhone, the Japanese salary man still works 100% on the computer in the office. In Hong Kong, we broke the computer/office-based model because of SARS. But Japan has a strong entrenched mentality of keeping the status quo, totally the opposite of innovation." 

Submedia

Back in Hong Kong in 2005, Leroy started up Submedia Asia with some water polo friends. They launched the first in-tunnel motion-picture advertising system in the MTR and Tokyo Metro. He takes up the story:

"Between Causeway Bay and Wan Chai, it's a one-and-a-halfminute ride in a dark tunnel. We installed 200 panels with fluorescent tubes, and a laminated transparent sheet with compressed images. So, when you go through in the train it created an illusion of a movie. It was a crazy smart idea invented by a rocket scientist in the US. We created 20 second adverts." 

But the analogue system turned out to be very costly. For one thing, it was expensive to change the adverts. Workmen had to physically go into the tunnels and change each sheet at night between MTR maintenance shifts. In the long run, the concept was not viable.

Never one to shy away from a new challenge, in 2006 along with a partner Leroy started a recruitment firm in Shanghai focusing on the construction business. 

"It was boom time," Leroy remembers. "I flew out in May, one of Shanghai's rare beautiful windows of weather. But after the Lehman Brothers shock, hiring was put on hold, and no more international staff were recruited for half a year." 

Leroy moved back into education, attending an SMBA in Shanghai Jiaotong University, and learning how Chinese businessmen think.

"Passion is important, whatever you do"

Key skill

Once again, Hong Kong beckoned, and he was hired as Sales Director at Infor - the 3rd largest enterprise software company in the world, after SAP and Oracle.

"It was the first time I had 'Sales' in my title." With his background in finance management, Leroy had an intuitive understanding of the needs of his new customers. 

"I had the background from the user side. The typical customer would be a Chief Financial Officer. I won the global sales performance award in my second year, and was promoted to Regional VP covering North Asia region."

He still sees this experience as key. "It's useful to have sales experience in large companies before you start your own business. Selling is a key skill to master."

Excelling

With so many changes, at first glimpse it is difficult to make sense of the twists and turns of Leroy's life. But it turns out that there is a prosaic thread running through his career. Back in 1985, he spent his flight to Manila reading thick programming manuals, in order to build an accounting system for the regional fishing industry. With Burmah Castrol in M&A he developed a "fancy Excel spreadsheet" to analyse a US$800 million deal. Leroy has in fact spent a lifetime working with Microsoft Excel.

"Recently I got a startup idea while organizing a water polo tournament. I read From Zero to One, Lean Startupand related stuff."

Deeply impressed and with a renewed urge to change the world, Leroy quit his job and used savings to create a Minimum Viable Product. Raising some angel funding from individual investors, and with the help of a few university students he was off again.

Pikapage

Pikapage

Pikapage was launched in March 2017. The app presents complex sport competition data on an intuitive smartphone interface. His first high profile customer was the Hong Kong International Dragon Boat Festival. 4,000 participants made 20,000 page views in one weekend.

"In every one of my jobs Microsoft Excel has been really important. If you are in management you have to know how to measure, how to report, and then make the decisions. Spreadsheets are the tool of choice." 

"Now I have a way to use my 30 years of Excel experience to create value for my own customers on a product that I have invented."

After a lifetime in water polo, Leroy seems finally to have found his metier at the interface of IT and sport. We wish Leroy a Big Splash with Pikapage!